News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Where lynching and character assassination are the favorite sports

The blogs are reacting to the news that Chad Schuldt of Clean Cut Kid is named as the person charged with embezzling $100,000 or more from the Hildebrand Tewes consulting firm. There are those with whom Chad has taken issue who feel a sense of elation that a rhetorical opponent is alleged to have shown some failures of character. That is the normal reaction of the people who frequent blogs, town cafes, and mean little taverns. It is part of the cultural repertoire for some. For others, it is cause to become heartsick. Some people, as Willa Cather has shown us, celebrate any human triumphs and successes and mourn human failures. Others feel equal or sometimes superior only when they can point to something to condemn or deride in others. The character and intellectual stature of people can be defined by which mode of expression they choose, and remember that Ralph Waldo Emerson said that character is higher than intellect.

For the unraveling of this story, however, much is said about the kind of community that South Dakota is by observing how it broke. The confirming story was not published in the local news media that serves the area where Chad Schuldt worked and lived. It broke in the D.C. Capitol newspaper Roll Call with Steve Hildebrand cited as the confirming source.

First of all, we assume that Roll Call had established a rapport with the Hildebrand Tewes organization so that the firm would know that the story would be handled journalistically with the facts as the basis for the story, and not all the malicious delights that could be contrived from them. In other words, with the atmosphere created by blogs and their commenters and some inept journalism, only an idiot would release this kind of story where its bare facts would immediately be ground up as fodder for the defamation cannons.

I did not know Chad other than over the Internet, and that involved some work on generating and refining mailing lists for political campaigns. I did look at his blog fairly regularly. He made some incisive posts, but he also allowed himself to get involved in the ad hominem game, which is the standard currency for many political blogs. The imputation of character, intellect, and personality, and the false representations of people are the mode of "discussion" utilized most by many political blogs. And one can easily demonstrate that the right-wing-ding blogs do it with much more frequency than other blogs. Unfortunately, Chad allowed himself to get pulled into exchanges of personal defamations at times, but he also did some solid posts that focused on what people did or said without resorting to using such criticisms as the basis for defamations of character and personality. And for folks like Doug Wiken who think I generalize too much about blogs, I will point as examples the constant accusations of moral deficiency posted by Sibson and some of the dreadful lapses into peevish defamation at South Dakota Politics. (Note: This will link you to a prime example of the latter's work.)

A case is made that if Chad is guilty of what he is accused of, it undercuts all the political commentary he has made. The credibility and reliability of a person has a great deal to do with how people read what they say. Aristotle observed that we believe good men more fully and readily than others. That is not to say, however, that people with blemished reputations do not make pertinent and valuable observations at times.

Who knows what circumstances drive men at times?

I recall a case when I was on the board of directors of a foundation that was set up to protect and preserve a state park that had been the site of what was probably the largest historical Indian village in North America. The affairs of the foundation got busy enough and big enough that we needed to have a treasurer with professional accounting experience to administer our funds, and two of us directors were designated to find such a person. Well, we found one. He was also the treasurer of a very large Baptist church in the community and had glowing recommendations of character and competence. The night we were to introduce him to the board, he failed to show up.

He could not make the meeting because he had been arrested and jailed. He was charged with embezzling from the church.

It turns out that the man had developed a consuming interest in playing poker. He had gotten himself into some poker games with professional gamblers and was losing his shirt on a regular basis. He embezzled to cover his debts. There was an implied menace against him and his family if he did not pay up. And, of course, he kept playing poker in the belief that he could eventually recoup his losses and pay back the money he embezzled.

The tragedy was not only that what once had been a very good man stumbled and fell, but that he had a family that suffered all the consequences financially and socially.

There will be those who take great pleasure and delight in seeing Chad immersed in ignominy. Others will find the matter grievous and will even see what they can do to restore a man to a productive and responsible life and see that his family gets the respect and compassion it deserves. And so it goes.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States